Startup targets HDL code management

By Richard Goering

FREMONT, Calif. --Source code management tools are well established among software developers, but are not commonly used by hardware designers. ClioSoft Inc., a new startup company, hopes to change that by offering source-code management tools aimed at users of HDL tools.

The self-funded company was founded early this year by Srinath Anantharaman, president and CEO, who formerly held engineering and management roles at Silvar-Lisco (now Silicon Valley Research), Vantage, and Synopsys. Although Anantharaman is the company's only full-time employee, several people have been working on a contract basis, and ClioSoft is starting to ship its SOS revision control and source-code management tool this month.

Anantharaman said hardware designers need source-code management for the same reasons that software developers do. "There are a number of people working on the design, and you need to coordinate that," he said. "You need to make sure people get each other's changes, and don't overwrite each other's changes. If something is wrong, you need to go back and find out what went wrong."

The ideas behind SOS and ClioSoft began to gel when Anantharaman was working as a consultant for Proxy Modeling (Pleasanton, Calif.), a firm started by ex-Vantage people. Proxy Modeling was helping VHDL users with revision control by writing scripts for RCS, a Unix revision-control utility.

While the need for source-code management was apparent, Anantharaman said, Proxy Modeling found three classes of users--those who had no tools at all, those who wrote scripts for RCS and those who used sophisticated tools such as Clearcase from Atria, which Anantharaman called "overkill."

RCS provides a base level of revision control for files, but it's not enough, Anantharaman said. "Nobody uses RCS in its raw form. To do any level of project or group activity you need to write scripts on top of it. The scripts keep getting more and more complex and hacked up," he said.

ClioSoft's SOS tool uses RCS, but adds a layer of project management tools on top of it. SOS offers checkout procedures for files, an ability to control an entire project "tree," directory revisions, a source-code repository, controlled visibility of changes, concurrency management and release management.

One notable feature is "bubble-up alerts," icons that pop up and warn of common problems. These icons get their name because they are not only displayed with the affected file, but they bubble up the project tree all the way to the top, thus gaining instant visibility. An alert might signal that a development branch has not been merged or terminated, that not all files modified to affect a change were put back in the directory, or that a revision has been locked by some other user.

SOS also lets project managers define their own metrics, and have them tracked automatically. For example, a manager could track the number of functions in C or C++ files, the number of nets or signals in an HDL file, or the number of changes made in a recent revision.

"HDL managers have more or less come from the schematic world, where they had a picture that gives some idea of how the project is going," said Anantharaman. "Now they have 300 files in over 20 directories, and no idea of how the project is really progressing."

The product's user interface looks like a file browser, and allows users to display directories, files and revision history. Users can customize the interface to add their own commands and buttons. SOS currently runs on Unix only, but Windows NT support is planned. List price is $2,000 per license, with volume discounts available.

Anantharaman said ClioSoft has initiated some "preliminary" discussions with EDA vendors about linking SOS to EDA tools. The company is already working with Runtime Design Automation (Sunnyvale, Calif.), which offers tools for design management, network computing and change propagation. Runtime and ClioSoft tools are complimentary, and the companies hope to find ways to tie the tools together, Anantharaman said.

In the future, ClioSoft will look for ways to help manage simulation regression testing, Anantharaman said. The company has no immediate plans for Internet or Intranet-enabled products. However, ClioSoft has a Web site.